for release July 12, 2002
by Melodie Davis
It Isn't Just Priests Who Have Problems With Sex
Stories about sexual misconduct among priests have been frequent this spring and summer. But it isn't only priests who've gotten caught with their hands where they shouldn't be. Men and women with sexual addictions or compulsions are everywhere-in every faith group, religion, job, and family. While it is especially despicable for someone in a position of power and trust to abuse their position to take advantage of vulnerable children, sexual sins are all wrong. Some sexual sins, however, are more hurtful than others.
The sex addict lives with fears like these:
* Having a squad car pull into the driveway, and you know why they've come
* Having a co-worker discover a pornographic website you left on your browser
* Having a teenage son discover your stash of porn magazines
* Having everyone laugh at a flasher joke, while knowing inside that you are one (most examples cited by Dr. Patrick Carnes, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, CompCare publishers 1983).
These are some of the common situations men and women find themselves in everyday. Usually, the person gets little lasting satisfaction from his addiction, and as with other classic addictions such as alcoholism or gambling, the person is often trying to ease the pain of the past, seeking companionship, and maybe acting out anger over a dysfunctional family. No matter how the abuser may rationalize his acts (and that is how most abusers live with themselves, with heavy doses of rationalization), preying on others is inexcusable and wrong.
But who is hurt when you browse through a pornographic magazine? Who is injured when you look at luscious babes-or hunks-on a website? At first glance it may seem like not much harm is done, considering that adult nude posers are "consenting" and are paid for their exposure. So the real harm done is what happens to the beholder.
I've wanted to write about this for some time because sexual addiction can be a powerful force and terrible curse in the life of a family. I read that 60 percent of men who have showed up at the huge religious Promise Keepers men's rallies admit to struggling with pornography. That is not to condemn them or Promise Keepers: good for the men for admitting it. And support groups can be a powerful force in helping men or women deal with this kind of addiction.
Dr. Patrick Carnes was apparently the first to identify sexual addiction as a condition. He estimated that about 8 percent of men and 3 percent of women (U.S.) are sexually addicted. Dr. Jennifer P. Schneider, a medical doctor states, "Addiction to sexual activities can be just as destructive as addiction to chemical substances."
Is saying that someone has a sexual addiction a cop out? Does it excuse them: "Ah, I can't help myself, I'm addicted." No, I don't think so, but it is tackling the problem on a different level, like saying, "This person isn't just being mean, immoral or a cheat; this person is compulsively doing something that is harmful to them, their families, their careers."
What is the difference between sexual compulsions and addictions? Most of my information on this comes from books by Dr. Carnes, and some excellent websites. One website points out, "Not everyone who struggles with sexual compulsions is an addict. Some men abuse their sexuality for a period of time and then grow out of it. Many men with a regrettable sexual experience in the past put it behind them and move on. But not everyone is so fortunate. Some men block emotional pain, by seeking sexual pleasure. Over time they have to try increasingly risky forms of sexual behavior in order to deaden the pain. Eventually their world revolves around sex." Then their compulsion or obsession has taken over their life and become an addiction. (From: <http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-f016.html>)
Even if your habits or activities really don't seem to hurt anyone else, they don't really bring desired intimacy. While "sex" can be found just about anywhere, true intimacy, trust and love are much harder to come by. But as with any addiction, there is hope from many sources: 12-step recovery groups, counseling, faith, and a desire to overcome. It may be an addiction, but it doesn't have to be the end of a healthy life.
So get help. It should be comforting to know you're not alone. A good place to start is by talking to a doctor, pastor, or friend. Or if you desire more anonymity, look for help on the Internet (it can be used for bad and good!)
Post your stories (can withhold name) at the Another Way discussion forum <http://www.thirdway.com/aw/conversation.asp> or send your comments/stories to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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